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Last month three different friends or clients in three different states attempted to hire either a PA, EA or a clerical assistant.

Six weeks later the three jobs remain vacant.

Candidates starting then accepting another job, candidates ghosting the interviewer, high salary expectations and no candidate worthy of an offer summarised the experiences of those three hiring managers.

The supposedly out-of-fashion office support role is proving to be a difficult position to fill, at least for now.

Although many jobs are proving to be a recruitment nightmare it seems no forecaster was really expecting the humble office assistant to be one of those jobs.

The Federal Government invests significant resources in forecasting demand in the Australian labour market.

For many years the annual Australian Jobs report has provided a very useful in-depth look into sector-by-sector and state-by-state employment data. Alongside existing job numbers forecasts are made about job categories, occupations, and sectors.

Predicting the future is a tricky business where experts are predictably and consistently wrong.

Although the disruption to the labour market caused by the COVID-19 pandemic provides some wriggle room for the government employment forecasters it’s still instructive to have a look at the discrepancies.

Yesterday the Australian Skills Commission released the latest Internet Vacancy Index (IVI), including the ten occupations with the most jobs advertised last month (July 2021). The top seven were:

  1. General inquiry clerks, Call centre workers, and Receptionists (17,200 job ads)
  2. ICT professionals (14,400)
  3. Sales Assistants and Salespersons (11,100)
  4. Business, Finance and HR professionals (10,500)
  5. Medical practitioners and Nurses (10,500)
  6. Corporate managers (10,300)
  7. Carers and aides (9,800)

In Australian Jobs 2019 the top seven occupations projected to add the most number of new jobs for the five years between 2019 and 2023 were listed as:

  1. Aged and disability carers (69,200 additional jobs)
  2. Registered nurses (51,400)
  3. Child carers (27,600)
  4. Software and applications programmers (25,500)
  5. Waiters (21,800)
  6. Education aides (18,800)
  7. Chefs (16,800)

At the other end of the scale personal assistants and secretaries were predicted to suffer the largest decline (between 2019 and 2023) of all job categories, with 19,400 less jobs. Coming in fifth on that same list was clerical and office support workers (1,000 less of them employed in 2023 compared to 2019).

Of course, there is an element of comparing apples and oranges because job ad volumes are not a reliable indicator of total employment. Jobs with a high turnover will need to be filled more frequently (hence more job ads posted) compared to jobs with a lower turnover. Jobs are also categorised differently in the two sets of data.

The IVI data is a moment in time (one month in 2021) whereas the Australian Jobs 2019 forecasts are predicting total employment gains by a future year (2023).

Even the World Economic Forum in their Future of Jobs 2020 research report listed, data entry clerks and administrative and executive secretaries as the two jobs at the top of the ‘decreased job demand’ list (see below, from Table 22, page 30).

Nevertheless, the endangered species status attached to the mainstays of twentieth century office life; the PA, EA, and clerical assistant seems to be premature, for now at least.

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This article sums up the changing dynamic in the employer/employee relationship. We live in supreme comfort in the Western world, meaning many people don’t need to work but choose to work.

Employers have always used the carrot and stick approach to hiring.

And expect to make a dream hire by putting a crap ad on a job board with 1000’s of others.

Maybe this is the new definition of insanity!

We live in a world of Tiktok, youtube, smartphones and yet still the best an employer can come up with to attract talent is a JD posted on Seek.

However it is companies go about attracting and retaining their best customers is exactly what they need to do to attract and retain talent.

Posting an ad and grumbling about the response is like me posting an ad in the singles column with a pic of me saying ‘come and get it’ and asking why I haven’t found the dream partner!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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